BLACKTOP is a blank slate constantly renewing itself, a freedom of movement displacing and replacing ideas in the context of environment.
BLACKTOP pursues art without boundaries, shuns passive habits, styles, formalisms, and codes, and works on a scale of ideas that defies conventional realms of art and design.
BLACKTOP seeks truth through aesthetic experience.
BLACKTOP is a train of thoughts strung together like features of landscape.
BLACKTOP is the laboratory, sublime ideal, and generative force behind the built works of Haddad|Drugan.
Blacktop Wonderland is a revolution disguised as a roadside attraction with an agenda for a particular worldview, an all of universe. Blacktop Wonderland operates as a laboratory of innovation within realms of an artist’s life including aesthetic, economic, social, and environmental.
The aura of the roadside attraction is tied to the allure of the open road, particularly in the context of the desert, where a singular vision can create a universe unto itself. If the road is America’s “primordial sculpture” (Carl Andre), the desert is its spatial counterpart.
The speed, scale, and freedom of the road still inspire the curiosity, fantasy, and revelation that drew tourists to roadside attractions in the early twentieth century. But its present grim reality now also includes commercialism, expansive sprawl, and fossil fuel consumption. Blacktop Wonderland shall be progressive and responsive to environmental needs and changes, using art to tap into sculptural and mythic aspects of the road while also acting as a counterpoint to its negative forces. Blacktop Wonderland shall redefine the roadside attraction to be both critically charged and self-sustaining.
The power of the roadside attraction exists in the collusion between proprieters and travelers to join in a fantasy world spurred on by the sense of discovery associated with the open road, and the feeling of wonder provoked by things unknown and unusual. Playing into that aura of opportunity and abandon, Blacktop Wonderland will imbue its environment with theatricality, merging fiction with fact to create an artistic lens through which this new paradigm of development can be perceived and experienced. In an ideal scenario and the do-it-yourself spirit of historic roadside attractions, the artist-inventors shall also be the proprietors of their own creation, actors within the performance.
Blacktop Wonderland shall be an encyclopedic open-air museum, a desert landscape filled with wonders that in their concepts and juxtapositions convey a dense and layered meaning extending across natural and cultural spheres. Wonders of art are often also wonders of engineering, combining natural and cultural forces to produce astonishing effects. At the borderline between sensation and thought, wonder can enchant information. The wonders of Blacktop Wonderland shall draw on precedents of roadside attractions, art tourism, artist colonies, desert earthworks, and renewable energy. We shall reuse and reinvent these prototypes, blending and morphing them, or discarding and replacing them; manipulating them to address inherent issues of art, highway culture, and energy consumption, as well as a conceptual artistic agenda.
Precedents for investigation include roadside museums, gardens, and zoos; curio shops of natural phenomena and artificial marvels; campgrounds and RV parks; gas stations and motels; restaurants in unexpected forms; billboards and gigantic sculptures; souvenirs and postcards. And from the realm of art tourism: earthworks, folk art, and entire towns given over to gallery treatment. We shall expand on the biofuel stations and wind and solar fields increasingly seen on highways to create artistic machines and working architecture that act as mechanisms of both aesthetic experience and alternative energy.
Blacktop Wonderland will combine these models into hybrid chimeras ranging in scale from the miniature to the gigantic: traffic-generated wind turbines powering billboards, earthworks as solar catchments, and botanical sculpture gardens nourished by highway runoff. Gas stations will be fed by agriculture and food production, striving for methods that minimize costs while maximizing effects. Curios and campsites shall be conceived as individual artworks that crystallize into visual, sculptural, and aesthetic form the ideas behind the more technological installations.
In compliment to their functional-aesthetic aspects, the wonders of Blacktop Wonderland shall also have a conceptual meaning described through an index both specific and general that attempts to catalog a particular all of the universe. The categories of the index overlap with the environmental/technological agenda of the roadside attraction, including but not limited to entries in the realms of: <poetics> <physics> <flora> <water> <light> <cold> <green> <mineral> < machines> <space> <time>.
To achieve a density of response to each category of exploration and a fuller “all” of the universe, Blacktop Wonderland will be a collaborative endeavor. Individual artists will be invited to create artworks that explore one or more of the categories of inquiry, or even expand the index. In addition to contributing to the conceptual and functional agenda, each piece in the collection must contribute to the sustainable aspect of the venture, while also aspiring to capture an audience from the highway, be it cruising tourists, big rig transporters, or other travelers in need of food, fuel, or a chimerical experience of art and nature.
"Happening: Paradigms of Light aBlaze (A Dialectic of the Sublime and the Picturesque)"
Written by Laura Haddad
Published in Landscape Journal (Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 1996)
Abstract: This essay responds to the fall of the Sublime as an aesthetic of landscape, in the midst of an ever-abounding Picturesque. It ties an over-emphasis on objective visual form and an eventual loss of subjective meaning to this fall. The history presented here is a sketch of how the Sublime has recast itself over the years, in terms of both its theory and its objects of representation, and in terms of its relationship with Picturesque theory and practice. Simultaneously, in an effort to restore meaning to worn-out forms of the designed visual landscape, the essay tries to reconstitute a sense of the Sublime in its own writing. Set amongst the history is a sequence of fictional descriptions which narrate the displacement of a Picturesque view by a Sublime experience. Thus, the format of the critique emulates its own thesis: it is in the guise of critical theory that a sense of the Sublime (and its subjective meaning) can be restored to a current aesthetic of landscape architecture overly pre-occupied with objective, visual form.
"Is it happening?"
"What is landscape?"
"What is painting?"
Facing the "impossibility" of pictorial representation, the Modern avant-gardes called into question all assumptions. By Jean-Francois Lyotard's accounts, "they set about to revolutionize the supposed visual givens in order to reveal that the field of vision simultaneously conceals and needs the invisible, that it relates therefore not only to the eye, but to the spirit as well. Thus they introduced painting into the field open by the esthetics of the sublime." (1982, p. 67)
A similar line of inquiry is long overdue for practitioners and theorists of landscape architecture, a discipline whose method of design has in large part been mired in the safety and preservation of visual representation since the late eighteenth-century advent of the Picturesque. Symptomatic of this quandary is the condition that too many projects are designed to be seen, to be photographed and published as pictorial works in glossy magazines; and not to be experienced in any way that transcends visual stimulation and elicits subjectively perceived emotional content. In order to begin to restore Sublime meaning to the designed landscape, consider the question, "what is landscape?"
A quintessential San Francisco view, the tour book says, it has been photographed many times. Approaching Alamo Square Park you see a cluster of tourists standing in one spot looking downhill, cameras held to their faces, vision fixed upon no more than what their lenses allow them to see. You walk toward and then past them. (They for the most part stay planted on the sidewalk close to their bus their feet never touch the grass.) Your book has told you the optimal position from which to enjoy the view. That is where you stand, on grass, a small distance down from the crest of the grassy slope, closer to the sidewalk on your right than to the trees on your left...
The book tells you that the view from this location is famous for its juxtaposition of layers and forms. In the far background is the horizon of nature, a gentle organic line of hills. Jutting up in front of that line are rectilinear skyscrapers. The foreground creates the real illusion. The tour book calls them the Painted Ladies. They are a row of seven nearly identical Victorian houses across the street from the park. Because of the slope of the hill on which you stand, it appears that these Seven Sisters are directly in front of the skyscrapers. Framing the illusion are a large cypress tree to your left in the park and a white apartment building to the right of the Victorians. From your optimal position, front and center, the scene is a perfect composition. It could be a painting (but is usually a photograph).
Reintroducing the Sublime, with its glorious subjective meaning, into the debate effects something of a foil to the facility heretofore enjoyed by the Picturesque.
Because the Sublime happens in one's experience of the unforeseen, the form that prompts its emotional configuration must continually recast itself. Perception of the Sublime is possible at those moments when your thoughts move with the speed of light and then continue on to infinity. This happens rarely and lasts only instantaneously, like a flame. Light is the visual representation least easily objectified and most deeply experiential in its happening. It flickers. It seduces you. It is soon inescapable, but never permanent. The works considered most Sublime for their time convey an approach toward ineffable, intransitive illumination.
Today the light shifts rapidly across the view. Over the easternmost low-lying hills hang a mass of opaque dark clouds casting somber blues as a dramatic backdrop for the city in front of it, where skyscrapers then broadcast brief planes of reflected sunlight. But closest to you is brilliance. The Painted Ladies are lit up as spots of bright pastel against the eastern dark blues. The sky above you is transparent.
The first known essay on the Sublime is attributed to Longinus, who is thought to have lived during the third century A.D. Longinus renders the Sublime as an emotional transport enacted by rhetoric. He prefers the formal aspects of this rhetoric, though, to pass unnoticed. The greater content of Sublimity should conceal them. "Much as duller lights are extinguished in the encircling beams of the sun, so the artifices of rhetoric are obscured by the grandeur poured about them." (Longinus 1906, p. 41)
"Dieu dit: Que la lumiere se fasse, et la lumiere se fit." (". . . And there was light.") Centuries later, the Sublime comes to England from France, by way of Boileau's 1674 translation of Longinus. In his preface, Boileau uses this, God's creation of light, to illustrate his own take on the Sublime. The Sublimity of the phrase is in the instantaneity of the fulfillment of such a grand command. You nearly see the current of light happening. Samuel Monk surmises that the simple language of the phrase leaves rhetoric by the wayside and moves the Sublime toward redefinition.
You look up from the view through and into the sky but then the sun as it likes to do locates your eye then turns toward its dazzling. You stare into its resplendence, helpless as it blinds you to the view. You no longer see, just listen to get your bearings.....